School Choice Week 2024
January 21-27 this year was the 14th year of National School Choice Week. Twenty-eight Governors across the country, and federal officials spoke declarations and held press conferences to tell parents how wonderful and necessary “school choice” is to their families and children. Governor Glenn Youngkin, who has made “school choice” a cornerstone of his administration, was among the officials.
National School Choice Week is a cross between a carnival and an all out celebration, the equivalent of Fashion Week for designer labels, only for K-12th graders. It also is reminiscent of the full-court press tobacco companies did for cigarettes across the 1950s and 60s, bringing out wholesome looking smokers and doctors who would tell the public smoking was good for their health.
School Choice week was started in 2011 by the Gleason Family Foundation, and this year it is estimated that the foundation gave over $14 million dollars to support the more than 27,000 events of 2024 National School Choice Week. Don’t look for it under the Gleason imprimatur though. The operational wing is NASCAF (National School Choice Awareness Foundation) which shows a staff of 26 on its website .
The Gleason family was not alone in its contributions. The list of contributors is a virtual Who’s Who of ultra-wealthy maligners and critics of local public schools. The DeVos Foundation, and the Charles Koch Foundation’s yes.every.kid Foundation, EdChoice which is the former Friedman Family Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation were all contributors through various programs and subsidiaries.
In 2024 the Invest in Education group even launched a national ad campaign to promote a federal school choice act that would embed a private school tax credit into federal law, called ECCA (Educational Choice for Children Act). According to Open Secrets, they spent $461,500 lobbying in 2023.
They recognize that heart rending stories capture people’s hearts and use individual sad stories of children whose parents were in jail or who saw trauma in their families and attribute their salvation to the chance for a new school, but the reality is that most vouchers are used for students already attending private schools.
The changes in this year are that they have shifted the pitch from charter schools to vouchers, also called Education Savings Accounts, and the target market has shifted from primarily white families to ethnic communities and communities of color.
The new vouchers and education savings accounts make big promises about helping “free” parents and students “trapped in government schools,” but the reality is that the average cost of a private school in Virginia is between $13,000 for elementary and $15,000 for high schools, while the average per pupil funding from state resources is $5,623 for each of the state’s 1.2 million elementary and secondary school students. Where is the average working family supposed to find the $8,000 to $9,500 difference?
What school choice proponents overlook is that local public schools belong to and are run by the communities whose children use them. They are not “government schools.” They are our schools for our children, and there are hundreds of built in safeguards and benefits we have structured into them, from electives to technology, and sports to arts programs. Public schools provide higher math than most private or homeschoolers can provide. Our schools, even in small counties, have global diplomas and AP courses that students can choose who want access to the best international universities. We have Career and Technology programs in 17 clusters of different certifications that serve 670,000 students a year. That’s over half of the 1.2 million students in Virginia who are able to access career training.
Through elected school boards we can draw from parents and community members who want high quality schools for all the children in their area. Here in Virginia we literally have a world class education system far beyond what out-of-state billionaires will provide for our children, in exchange for our hard earned tax dollars they don’t pay, and the missing school busses they won’t drive as part of their broken school choice promises.